Someone snubbed me last week. She looked at me from across the room and didn't so much as wave her hand or smile. Not only that, but I sat and played with her daughter for half an hour, and the mother didn't even have the decency to thank me. To add insult to injury, I do this woman a favor, gratis, on a regular basis, and she couldn't even take two seconds to acknowledge my presence?! The nerve!
I felt taken, imposed upon, vindictive, and most of all, angry! In fact, my emotional state was so severe that I telephoned two friends to complain, stewed inwardly for hours, and discussed it with my husband. It took all my willpower not to disclose the woman's identity.
I telephoned two friends to complain, and stewed inwardly for hours.
A week later, I had occasion to visit this woman's house. By the time of our meeting, I had let go of my resentment toward her and was able to be polite and friendly. Now was the perfect time to "work out the conflict," in an unemotional, after-the-fact sort of way. So as nonchalantly as I could, I asked: "Did you see me at the library last week?"
Her face was blank. "No," she said. "Which day was that?"
I began to feel annoyed. I had prepared myself for an apology, an excuse, or an explanation, but feigning ignorance was really outrageous.
"You were looking right at me," I explained as patiently as possible. "I read to your daughter for about half-an-hour." Said daughter, observing the exchange, nodded vigorously, confirming my words.
"Hmmmm," said my friend, gazing into the distance. She seemed confused. "That might have been the day I was supposed to meet someone at the library. I was scanning the whole place, searching for this particular person. I remember being very distracted. In fact, I let my daughter roam around, figuring that she could take care of herself and read some books. I don't remember seeing you at all."
I felt like one of those inflatable beach balls that has sprung a sudden, enormous leak. It was unthinkable! Here I had spent a good few hours of emotional and mental energy stewing over this woman's rudeness, and it had been a complete misunderstanding! Far from trying to snub me, my friend had simply not seen me. And to think that that possibility never even crossed my mind!
Now here's where the orange juice comes in. A short while ago we began to buy a certain brand of orange juice, processed and packed by a Jewish company. As an avid reader, I have this nasty little habit of reading while I eat. It doesn't matter what it is: If it's in front of me at mealtime, I'll read it. Everything's fair game - a magazine, a Cheerios box… or an orange juice carton!
Instead of a blurb about reducing cholesterol, the container had "The Road to Tranquility."
As I scanned this particular carton, I critiqued the ad copy on one side, perused the nutritional information on the other side, and then nearly choked on my food when I reached the third side. Instead of a fluffy little blurb about how orange juice may reduce your cholesterol, the container had a passage entitled: "The Road to Tranquility." It proceeded with a quote made available from the Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation (chofetzchaimusa.org), an organization dedicated to raising the quality of interpersonal relationships. Here is a partial quote from the orange juice container:
People do not always speak or act as we would wish. As a result, we sometimes feel impelled to embark upon a rough road of anger or disappointment.
But there is another path - a high road - that bypasses anger and strife and leads instead to a life of tranquility. That road is marked by the well-known phrase, "the benefit of the doubt."
Seeing someone else's mistake in the best light does not mean we are naive. It means we have the insight to know that misunderstanding, inexperience, worry and stress are usually behind the offending acts of otherwise well-meaning people.
The high road. That's just it! The dreary road of anger, resentment, and revenge is a well-trodden, dusty one. It's the road people travel most because it's the easiest route. It takes a millisecond for my mind to shift into "insulted mode," and a snub is automatically accompanied by a physiological reaction that gets my adrenalin flowing and my heart pounding faster.
But our Sages tell us there is a way to escape the bondage of anger and aggravation. Simply by reprogramming myself, I can free my mind, heart, and spirit from the physical and emotional dangers of stewing and judging. I can take a deep breath and say:
- "Hmmmmm, it's very unusual for that person to treat me that way. She must be having a bad day."
- "I know he probably didn't notice that he accidentally stepped on my toe."
- "She didn't realize that she cut in front of me in the line."
- "My husband is usually so good about buying me flowers. He must have been too busy to pick them up this week."
Well, the message was certainly clear. After two minutes in front of that OJ carton, I felt elated, wonderful, and ready to go test-drive the "high road."
Then suddenly an insidious thought punctured my spirits: But what if it's not true? What if that cashier was mean to me on purpose? What if it wasn't an accident that the neighbor sprayed me with his hose this morning? What if I know that that particular woman is catty and makes insensitive comments all the time? In short, why should I judge someone favorably if I'm certain that their actions are dishonorable?!
Beneath my question lies the answer, and when I practice a little humility and patience, it comes to me. The truth is that when I judge favorably, the real benefactor is me. I save myself from the headache and heartache of anger and resentment. I avoid the pitfalls of revenge, harboring hatred, and speaking gossip (all of which are forbidden by the Torah). In short, I stand to lose the most when I do not judge favorably.
Like a friend explained: "When we get upset at somebody, it's as though we drink a vial of poison -- and then expect the person we're upset at to drop dead."
I, for one, am sick and tired of all the poison. I'd rather drink orange juice instead.